New dual graduate degree combines social work and Latin American studies

Wes Scarborough

Starting next fall, UT will offer a degree to suit the growing demand of social workers with an understanding of Latino and Latino immigrant culture in Texas.

The School of Social Work and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, or LLILAS, will offer a dual-degree program at the graduate level, combining social work skills with competency in Latino culture and languages. Those who complete the program will receive a Master of Science in Social Work and a Master of Arts with a major in Latin American studies. The program is the first of its kind in the country, according to LLILAS spokeswoman Susanna Sharpe.

Jane Kretzschmar, assistant dean for the Master of Science in Social Work program, said there has been a gap between social work in Texas and the needs of its diverse Latino and immigrant population. Kretzschmar said the new program is looking to attract mostly people who speak a Latin American language.

“I have been in Texas for a long time, and I know a lot of social workers who wish they had that background,” Kretzschmar said.

Former LLILAS graduate student Cintia Huitzil petitioned for the degree program by working with students from the School of Social Work and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. According to Sharpe, Huitzil started collecting the signatures for a letter proposing the degree program in spring 2013.

“I hope that in combining these disciplines, LLILAS and the School of Social Work can foment a more critical and conscientious student body with the theoretical and practical background to best serve the Latinos and Latin American immigrants in this country,” Huitzil said in a statement.

Huitzil, a second-generation indigenous Chicana, was a social worker based in Los Angeles before getting her graduate degree at UT. She worked with indigenous immigrants to help them gain access to social services.

Sharpe said there used to be a “disconnect” concerning Latin American studies. The degree used to focus on observing the countries from afar rather than actually partnering with the people from those countries in order to understand their culture and politics.

“That’s partly what this degree is about — making [social workers] serve as partners,” Sharpe said. “It would be so much more helpful if we knew more about the social and political context of these people.”